Photo of 3D printer face shield

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Instead of taking a break during the coronavirus outbreak, members of the robotics special interest 4-H club in Champaign have stepped up to supply critically needed personal protective equipment to Carle and OSF hospitals. Club members with access to 3-D printers are creating face shields that protect medical professionals treating patients.

The 4-H club members of Ctrl-Z, officially known as FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Team 4096, have already produced about 100 face shields from their individual homes. The shields are made of plastic and fit over the more common face mask, protecting medical workers from a patient’s sneeze or cough. 

“We are trying to have the youth see the benefit of helping others,” says Bob Smith, assistant coach and volunteer leader for the robotics club. “As 4-H clubs and FIRST teams, we are trained to jump in and help whenever help is needed. This is something that we can do. We have the material and tools sitting around not being used right now, so it just makes sense for us to help contribute.”

A club sponsor, LMT Onsrud headquartered in Waukegan, donates end mill bits that are being used to fabricate the clear face shields, Smith says.

The club is planning to make more shields, but the raw materials are in short supply. Adam Pletcher, club leader, says they may collaborate with another group to make face masks or similar projects if they cannot find the materials to continue making shields.

The club may also use other materials to make the shields. Right now, only members with access to 3-D printers can contribute. Different materials that could be cut with scissors may allow more members to help.

The club would normally be competing in FIRST robotics competitions during the spring. This year, the competitions are cancelled. Reese Pletcher, a freshman at Mahomet-Seymour and a 2-year member of the robotics club, recognizes that the competitions are not the most important part of the club.

“At our competitions we get to present our outreach activities, to show that we're helping others in our area,” says Reese. “So, this is just one of the things we do around the year to help. FIRST is about more than building robots.”

Other community service projects the club participates in include an annual summer STEM camp for community youth, including a scholarship program.

“I like that when we go to competitions, it’s not just about the robot,” says Adam. “We are also judged by our outreach efforts and our community impact; that’s a big focus of the organization.”

The club also gives youth a chance to practically apply science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) principles. Reese hopes to pursue a STEM-related career when she graduates high school. Working as a team is important in all their efforts.

 “It’s definitely taught me that it is better to work as a team,” says Reese. “Different people help with different things; you can’t do everything on your own.”

For Reese, the most rewarding part of participating in the club is the chance to participate in projects like making the face shields that help others in the community. “Just knowing that the face shields are helping people is pretty rewarding,” she says.

Source: Robert Smith, 4-H volunteer leader and former Extension staff
Writer: Gretchen Macklin, U of I student intern, Illinois Extension

photo of 3-D printed face shields